It is a sad fact of life, that we will most likely out live our dogs. I have raised 10 Service puppies for three different Assistant Dog programs. In addition I have raised 10 of our own dogs, three of which were rescues that had to have some retraining. The 10 service puppies are spread all over the country; while returning them to their specific organization for Advanced Training is emotionally very difficult, it is not like the death of one of our dogs.
Of the 20 dogs I have raised, two are still with us but I know that the end of their time with us will come too. But, that is a reality I do not have to deal with yet with them.
I have felt a deep connection with all of the dogs that have been part of my life. But I have learned recently that sometimes there is a more special connection with a special dog that makes their death seem unbearable. Such is the case with Joy.
Joy was born in CA as part of the new breeding program for a service dog organization. She was the first pup of the litter and had a #1 tattooed in her ear.
By this time I had raised enough service puppies that I found it was easier to let them return to Advanced Training if I had already gotten another service puppy before the older one left. So Kim II was still here when Joy arrived to begin her puppy training with me.
Those puppies grow up so fast and before I knew it, Joy had to leave for Advanced Training and I felt an unusually strong, sad tug in my heart. Kim II had already returned for her Advanced Training and Service pups Tarka and Tring had already been here a few months. I had watched how quickly Joy became a mentor to them and subsequent service puppies. She loved to play with them, always kept an eye on them, let them climb on her, bite her ears, and never got angry. She did set boundaries with a soft growl if the pup was a bit too much out of line but I soon learned that I could leave a puppy in her care while I dealt with other aspects of life.
When it was time for Joy to be returned for Advanced Training we drove her and one of her brothers (raised by another Helena puppy raiser) out to CA and I felt something in the pit of stomach the whole way.
As we left her and drove away, I felt an unusual painful tug in my heart accompanied by tears. And I could see in her eyes that she was puzzled by my leaving her behind. My sadness was tempered somewhat by the certainty that she was an awesome dog and would become an incredible service dog for some disabled child.
After she had been in AT for a few weeks, I received reports that Joy was having difficulty settling into her new routine. And then later I learned that she did not want to work, or play, or eat and seemed depressed. The trainers tried everything but it became clear that Joy did not want to be there and they decided to release her. Since the puppy raiser gets first choice of taking back a released puppy, I was asked if I wanted her back–did I?!
With the help of Angel Flight Joy came home in January 2001. She was very thin, but happy to see me and laid in my lap as we flew to meet up with Pat in Kingman, AZ where we had been quail hunting.
It took a few days for her to settle in, almost as if she was not sure she was going to stay with us this time. But soon we were training new puppies and she and I became a registered Therapy Dog team.
At the time we had 7 dogs: Sun Dancer, Cactus Jack, Cactus Calli, Griz, Joy and the two service puppies, Tarka and Tring. Wow! What a great summer that was! Joy was the focal point for the pack, was respected by all as she respected them. If there was a tussle with a couple of the dogs, she would run in and try to settle things.
She was a natural therapy dog, giving her loving attention to many people. She was always eager to go, see her special friends and brighten their lives. They looked forward to seeing her, and their faces lit up when she walked into their rooms.
During the years that Joy and I were a registered therapy dog team and raising service puppies, we grew very close. And even when we were not doing therapy dog visits, she went every where with me. If she was not outside, she lying under my desk, sleeping on the bed, coming and sitting in front of me for some attention which she would get by putting a paw on my leg and even being held in my lap.
I realized our relationship was a bit different than any I had had with my other dogs. She became like a sister to me, a special closeness unlike any I had ever had.
So when she was diagnosed with lymphoma in June 2010 I was devastated. We decided to try chemotherapy and she went into remission quickly. I became hopeful for her future, despite the daily fears and the care she required constantly.
In August, her veins had become so small that they were difficult for the vets to find during a chemo session. During a session on 2 August, after many efforts to find a vein, they used one on the inside of her back leg. But it was small and in the process the vein was nicked allowing some of the drug to leak into the tissue of her leg. It caused an immediate reaction with swelling and redness of the area that spread over the next few days. We were told to ice it several times a day and apply a special cream. At the time we did not realize how very serious this could be and later found out that many dogs had to have their legs amputated.
But it seemed like the wound was gradually getting better; however in October the leg started swelling again. The vet did an ultrasound on the leg but could see only healthy tissue and was confident that the leg was healing enough that we could take a break from chemo and take Joy with us on a hunting trip.
In the last couple of years she had developed an interest in hunting and wanted to go out with the other dogs rather than waiting in camp. Her long, glorious coat picked up every burr in sight and she never passed a pool of water to lie in, even if it was mostly mud. But we didn’t care that it took us extra time to clean her up when we got back to camp because she was happy. And in December 2009 she got her first pheasant. She picked it up, brought it to me, sniffed it some more and then let young Freezy have it.
It was a special day and we were hoping to repeat it in October when the vet gave us the go-ahead for a hunting break. But one day I was tending her leg and noticed a different smell which had increased the next day. We took her to the vet who said the tissue under the scab had become necrotic. The vet cut it out, leaving a large, ugly, seeping wound to which wet/dry bandages had to be applied several times a day. We made a special place for her in the bathroom with extra bedding for her to lie on to soak up the seepage from the wound. This all started on Thursday and by Sunday, the leg was so swollen Joy could not stand, sit or lie down comfortably.
I took this photo of her about noon on Sunday; it is very difficult to look at because I see my girl dying but I am glad I have the picture, for some reason.
She started looking at us and as we sat with her, we could see her eyes telling us she could no longer stay here and to please help her. With great sadness we called the vet, explained the situation and took her in to be put to sleep. As she slipped into unconsciousness she slid down into my arms and I laid my face on her soft fur and cried my heart out. Then Pat sat with her for a few minutes before we took her home. The vet petted her and through tears told us how sorry he was.
We buried her in Grizzy’s Garden, a place I had created over the years for our pets. We planted a mountain ash tree and several flowering shrubs around her grave.
I wept for days, weep now as I write this after almost 5 months since her death. Everything reminds me of her and some days I can do nothing but cry for my sister.
Perhaps eventually her loss will not hurt so much and maybe writing this will help me with my grief process. Also there is another puppy coming; another golden retriever. Of course she will never take Joy’s place but maybe she will lighten some of the darkness of the most horrible summer of my life.
This is one of my favorite photos of Joy, taken in April 2010, only a couple of months before she was diagnosed with cancer. We all were having a great time sledding down the front yard hill in the bright sun, laughing, rolling in the snow, chasing tennis balls. She was a very cool dog.
Please visit her album on my PhotoBucket site: http://s849.photobucket.com/home/Mtcfarm to see many more photos of her and she is also in the memorial section of my website: www.turtlebeartradingco.com as are all of the other dogs I have raised.
In January 2011 I made a Joy calendar, sorting through tons of photos of her to pick one for each month. I made this collage for the cover.